By now, nine days into my discipline of writing every day, some people might be wondering how all my little trips down memory lane are connected to the title of the blog, “Pieces of Peace.” Four years ago when I created it, I had a hard time coming up with a title. I knew I wanted it to reflect the commitment to peacemaking I’ve had for most of my adult life. I finally settled on “Pieces of Peace” not only because it seemed like a clever turn of phrase but also because it would allow me to explore other topics in a more random and “piecemeal” way and still sometimes have a connection to peacemaking, however tangential.
So how did peacemaking come to be such a high value to me? Since peacemaking and seeking justice are so integrally related (as the quote attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. recognizes, “Without justice, there can be no peace”), I trace the first stirrings of my commitment to peacemaking to that non-talking incident in my early childhood. As I’ve reflected on it, I think that at least one reason I refused to speak to my father was that I felt like a great injustice had been done and I wished someone would make it right. That need for justice and fairness has been a part of me my whole life. I’ve told the longer story of the development of my peace and justice conscience elsewhere, and don’t want to repeat myself too much here, except to highlight a few things.
I grew up in and am still an active member of a denomination that comes out of the Anabaptist tradition where nonresistance (nonviolence) and reconciliation are among the core beliefs. The Anabaptists took literally the biblical teachings to turn the other cheek, love your enemies, not take revenge, and overcome evil with good. My theological ancestors did not go to war and did not own or use weapons for killing people, and during the twentieth century many members of my church were conscientious objectors to war and instead of joining the armed forces they performed alternative service during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. When Dale and I graduated from college in 1968, during the height of the Vietnam War, he did his alternative military service by teaching in Zambia for two years. As a woman I was not subject to the draft, but I was opposed to war – not only the Vietnam War which was relatively easy and popular to oppose, but all war. I remember when my father took me and my younger brother who had both been born outside the United States to Philadelphia in 1968 to obtain formal documentation of our U. S. citizenship. As I went through a little quasi-naturalization process with the staff person at the immigration office, he asked me whether I would swear allegiance to the U. S. and promise to defend it (or something to that effect). Rather than give the simple and easy answer of yes, which I’m sure is what he expected, I felt compelled to explain that I was a conscientious objector to war.
Over the years, what I initially expressed mostly as conscientious objection to war has expanded to include a general commitment to nonviolence and to live up to the challenge in one of my favorite Bible verses from Romans 12: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” This verse suggests that peacemaking is much more than opposition to war but includes striving to live in harmony with others, whatever form it might take or whatever the challenges. My view of peacemaking is holistic and includes trying make peace in situations of interpersonal conflict, domestic violence, sexual abuse, racial/ethnic divisions, etc. This kind of peacemaking is often as difficult as working on alternatives to war and it’s just as important. Encompassed in the high value I place on peace and justice are other values like trying to understand and respect the essential dignity and humanity of everyone no matter how reprehensible their actions, showing compassion and being willing to listen, forgiving repeatedly and not seeking revenge, showing humility, and tolerating and respecting different points of view without resorting to the name-calling and incivility that seem to mark so much of public discourse these days. On these values, I am challenged by another set of favorite verses from the New Testament: “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:29, 31-32).
I will be the first to admit that I have failed more times than I care to count in being a living example of this kind of holistic peacemaking. While I dislike interpersonal and other conflict intensely, I have been in situations of conflict at various points in my life that seriously challenged my commitment and ability to be a peacemaker. I also know that while the general idea of peacemaking resonates with most people (I mean, who can be against making peace? It’s kind of like being against motherhood and apple pie!), when it comes to issues such as war, the death penalty and attitudes toward guns (to name a few), it gets messy, controversial and sometimes contentious, and sincere and thoughtful people I respect see things very differently. None of these disclaimers, however, changes my essential beliefs and desire to “seek peace and pursue it.” These beliefs, values and desires are among the most crucial “pieces of peace” I was thinking of when I named this blog.